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Joint property ownership - who inherits?

View profile for Philippa  Rowley
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A property is owned by more than one person for a variety of reasons, the most common being between couples or business partners. However few appreciate that people who own a property jointly can choose whether to own it as “joint tenants” or “tenants in common” and even fewer appreciate the far reaching consequences this can have on the death of one of the joint owners.

Tenants in common

Where a property is owned by two (or more) people  as ‘tenants in common’ each of them  has a share of that property which can be left in their estate to whomever they choose under the terms of their Will or in accordance with the intestacy rules.    Commonly, couples may own a property as “tenants in common” in equal shares, so that each owns 50%,

However, an exception to the above is where the parties have executed a Declaration of Trust or other similar document which provides that the parties hold the property in unequal shares, for example 70%/30%.

Joint Tenants

Where a property is owned as ‘joint tenants’ , then together  the owners own 100% of the property, neither have a distinguishable share from the other.   In other words, the owners own the whole of the property jointly.

Where one of the joint tenants dies, the property will pass automatically under the rule of survivorship, meaning that the surviving joint tenant(s) will inherit all of the property. This is regardless of the provisions of any Will executed by the deceased and can sometimes result in an unfair distribution of the estate.

It is possible to change from a joint tenancy to tenants in common by severing that joint tenancy. It is common for the parties to do this where they have fallen out for some reason.  

How do I tell how the property is held?

Where a property is registered with the Land Registry it is possible to tell from the Official Copy how the Property is held.

Should you require any advice on the joint ownership of property and how these rules affect a deceased’s estate please get in touch with one of our team. Please email Philippa Rowley or call our Contested Probate team on 0800 118 1500 to find out how we can help you. Or alternatively click here for more information.